- Final Push for Senate Passage of Constitutional Right to Clean Air, Water

For Immediate Release: May 24, 2017

Final Push for Senate Passage of Constitutional Right to Clean Air, Water

Amendment Inspired by Communities in Crisis Overwhelmingly Passes Assembly

Albany – Residents from communities which have been harmed by contaminated water and polluted air joined legislators and advocates today with a message: before leaving Albany for the year on June 21, the state Senate must pass New York’s Environmental Bill of Rights. The constitutional amendment, championed by Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-East Setauket) and Senator David Carlucci (D-New City), would guarantee every New Yorkers’ “right to clean air and water and a healthful environment.” It was born out of the advocacy of communities like Hoosick Falls, on Long Island, and Newburgh, where residents want to ensure that other communities have the tools necessary to fight for basic rights when a crisis occurs.

The amendment (A.6279/S.5287) passed the state Assembly with overwhelming and bipartisan support, 113-26. When passed by the state Senate this session, it must then pass a consecutive session of the Legislature (2019), after which it will be on the ballot for voter approval that fall.

Michele Baker, a Hoosick Falls resident and mom of Mikayla, who has become one of the faces of this campaign said, “Going to the faucet for a glass of clean, safe drinking water or opening the window for a breath of fresh air should be a basic right. But as a mom from Hoosick Falls, I've learned we have to fight to protect our kids and provide them with the basics, clean air and clean water, for a healthy future. That is why I support the Environmental Bill of Rights for all New Yorkers.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright said, “This is something that should be a part of being a citizen of this great state, to know that you can grow up, raise a family, and pass on to the next generation a clean and healthful environment. It’s simple. This proposal is based on the premise that these rights are fundamental, and that should be reflected in the state’s Constitution.”

Senator David Carlucci said, “Recent water contamination issues around the state and ongoing concerns about air quality have highlighted the importance of clean drinking water and air. With the challenges of a changing climate and proposed reductions at the EPA of over 30% at the federal level, New York has to act now. Six states have environmental rights provisions in their constitutions including Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Montana. This proposed constitutional amendment would follow those models and ensure that clean air and water are treated as fundamental human right for all New Yorkers.”

Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York said, “This is the People’s Amendment – moms and kids in Hoosick Falls asked, ‘what can we do to keep this from happening to others?’ We’re talking about the right to air that is safe to breathe, and water that is safe to drink. These are the most basic of rights. Unfortunately, many people are surprised to learn that our Constitution omits them. New York State has a moral obligation to act. Families everywhere deserve the opportunity to approve this amendment at the ballot box in 2019.”

Bill Samuels, founder of EffectiveNY said, “Having clean drinking water, fresh air to breathe and a healthful environment should be among our most basic rights as New ' — and yet, shockingly, these are not rights that we currently have in our state Constitution. With our environmental protections under attack by the federal government, it is more pressing than ever that we defend the health and welfare of New Yorkers by upgrading our Constitution to address the environmental challenges of today. We applaud the Assembly for its swift action. Now it’s up to the Senate to do its job.”

Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO said “All New Yorkers should be guaranteed safe drinking water, clean air and a healthful environment. This bill will prioritize these issues by investing in clean drinking water projects, improving wastewater and storm water infrastructure, development of new technologies in energy, and preserve our parklands all while helping our economy and creating good jobs. We strongly encourage passage of this bill to ensure the long-term health and safety of New Yorkers.”

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network said, “With this amendment New York is poised to become a national leader in environmental protection, joining only two other states nationwide that recognize the right to clean water, clean air and a healthful environment as an inalienable right deserving of the highest level of recognition and protection under the law.” In 2013, van Rossum brought a constitutional environmental rights case in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that breathed substantive life into that state’s constitutional provision.

Neil F. Woodworth, Executive Director of the Adirondack Mountain Club said, “The Adirondack Mountain Club strongly supports the Environmental Bill of Rights as an Amendment to Article I of the state Constitution, the state Bill of Rights. It is wholly justifiable to add New Yorkers’ right to clean air, clean water and a healthful environment to Article I’s constitutional guarantees, affording them an independent access to the courts if federal and state agencies fail to address air, water and ground pollution.”

Barbara Bartoletti, Legislative Director for the League of Women Voters, NYS said, “This proposed Constitutional amendment will ensure that all New Yorkers have the right to life-preserving clean air and water. Both of these vital elements are endangered, and government must do everything possible to protect them for today and for future generations.”

Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Region Director of Food & Water Watch said, “At a time when national leaders in Washington are bending over backward to grant every wish of corporate polluters, leadership at the state level is more important than ever to protect New York’s clean air and water. It’s far past time for the State of New York to recognize and protect our fundamental right to clean air and water, and we urge the Senate to pass this amendment immediately.”

Paul Gallay, president and Hudson Riverkeeper said, “What could be more fundamental than the rights to clean water and air? How can we not guarantee their protection and call ourselves a great state? The Senate should take the same bipartisan action as the Assembly and give New Yorkers the Environmental Bill of Rights they need and deserve.”

William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council said, “We support this Environmental Bill of Rights as an amendment to the state Constitution. It would have no effect on Article 14, Section 1, known as the ‘forever wild’ clause, which is the greatest forest conservation measure in history. The bill of rights would offer additional protections to all New Yorkers, far beyond the Adirondack and Catskill parks. We commend Assembly Environmental Conservation Chairman Englebright and Senator Carlucci for their leadership and sponsorship of this excellent resolution.”

The campaign to enact amendment kicked off at the turn of the year, with the release on videos which share the stories and experiences of several New Yorkers whose communities are suffering as a result of water and air pollution, including:

  • Lawrence, a 10-year-old in the South end of Albany.
  • Ashlynn, a 10-year-old in Hoosick Falls.
  • Mikayla, a 15-year-old in Hoosick Falls, who has also published a moving OPED in City & State calling for action.
  • Willie White, a community leader and executive director of A Village…, Inc.

New Yorkers interested in urging their state Senator to act can text ‘OURAIR’ or ‘OURWATER’ to 52886, or visit NYCleanAir.org.